Regional News
Travel Perceptions of a Kiwi
Mar 17, 2006, 12:49

When my father told me he was going on holiday to New Zealand for a month I jumped at the chance to ‘house sit’ for him in rural southern France. During my time here several friends and family members will come and go; one of them is Dan Anticich, a New Zealand born poet living in London who will share with you this week his unique perspective on visiting a country for the first time.

~Tim Glanfield

Church in Castelnau d'Aude
I’m not sure if arriving in a country and finding it matches up eerily with one’s preconceived ideas of it is satisfying or somehow mildly disappointing. I suspect it depends quite heavily on what those preconceived ideas are. Being that it’s always been a dream of mine to find myself winding through the narrow roads that separate countless picturesque vineyards, sipping the burgundy nectar of said vines, while sharing a beautiful, rustic fifteenth century house in a small village in the south of France with close friends, I can only say – preconceived ideas or not, this place is enchanting.

Castelnau D’Aude with its prominent yet rickety bell towerfulfils the small provincial French village stereotype to perfection, complete with incorrect signposting, shops that never seem to open, and a comforting feeling that nothing of genuine note has happened for at least the last century or so. I was also interested to find that one of our long bearded next-door neighbours, a friendly yet fascinating character who graffitis the exterior of his house with such questionable statements as ‘Behold The Man,' has also self appointed himself Pope. Sadly however, this wasn’t enough for our hairy friend to carry off the dubious mantle of Village Idiot, an honour bestowed on another gentleman who I am told is infinitely more worthy.

Tim Glanfield and Family
Being a born and bred true blue New Zealander, it seems my approach and enjoyment of travelling is slightly different than your average English person. For Tim, his well travelled sister and her fiancée, this little jaunt across the English channel to spend a memorable few days at their fathers home seems to be taken easily in stride with many a ‘bonjour’ being freely distributed to the easy going locals. For myself however, despite currently living in the ever bubbling melting pot that is London, France is still synonymous with the word ‘foreign’ and the strong sense of ‘not being in Kansas anymore Toto.’ I’m not sure how many of the good readership of your publication knows much about New Zealand, where it is or indeed if it really exists! But of primary importance is the fact that our three noble islands are a long way from just about anywhere and are in fact on precisely the opposite side of the globe to England, and obviously not much closer to Europe.

This is why the idea of pre-mediated opinions of other countries interests me. I have only ever been able to gather views and ideas of other countries and their peoples through the usual mediums of books, art and (if I was to be honest) television. Obviously this method of remote cultural education will ring true with people all over the world, but I feel that us Kiwis have a particular claim to it because going abroad is not as simple as getting on a train or going for a drive to cross a border. Rather we have to save up a good deal of money and fly off our islands in search of lands far away.

In thinking about whether I’ve got a claim to it or not, I may quite simply be wrong. If we are not able to, travel to the places we have heard about so many times, we don’t have a choice but to glean information from the sources we have available. As in most things in life, we learn from hearing information, seeing sights and interacting with other human beings. Unfortunately these sources are not necessarily one hundred percent accurate. My view of the United States for example; a place I’ve not had the pleasure to visit, consists of multi-faceted snapshots of big bustling cities, wide silent plains, flowing rivers, dry arid deserts, apple pie, pizza (a dish I hear that the Italians make claims on), the small towns that Steinbeck understood so well, the endless interstate asphalt which Kerouac traversed with such wanton passion and the countless other images and ideas that I have soaked up over the years. But if asked what my thoughts are on America, I don’t feel I would truly be able to answer.

I have several friends and acquaintances who have travelled to America, and interestingly, despite their preconceived ideas and stereotypes, they mainly comment on the people, and more accurately their strong propensity for both pride in their country and also unequalled hospitality and generosity. From the places that I have been fortunate enough to visit, ranging from Japan or Thailand to Hungary, I would have to agree that the people have affected me most. The memories of my travels centre on a person or a group of people who have made my visit an unforgettable experience of an either positive or negative nature.

Castelnau d'Aude
As another bottle of delicious local wine dwindles and the corkscrew is reached for again, I wonder if it is worth spending a moment to ponder on both how the American people have achieved a reputation for genuine hospitality, and also to think about your own views of other countries and their peoples, and how you’ve arrived at these conclusions. What are they based on? Are they accurate? And how would a visit to a small provincial town in southern France where the warm hearted locals welcomed you in to share in an unforgettable fraction of their wonderful culture would affect those conclusions. And although many of you probably have not so much as a clue about New Zealand culture, here’s a starting point; if you were ever in my country and happened to ask for directions from a group of people in the middle of front lawn barbecue, you may want to be prepared to accept a cold beer and to be asked to share a story or two about where you’re from and how come you can’t say potato properly.

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